Prior to the purchase of my first iPhone, I did not take it seriously as a gaming platform at all. In fact, I actually recoiled at the idea conceptually. I’ve also never been one to subscribe to the hardcore gamer tendency of dismissing social games and so-called “casual games.” On the other hand, I couldn’t look at the iPhone and consider it in the same category as my Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS, or PC. Those are all “platforms.” The iPhone, however, was “a phone with games you can play on it.”
My wife won her iPhone two years ago in a raffle, and fell in love. She’s a blogger and social media junkie, which is what she mostly used the phone for. When I discovered the existence of Mass Effect Galaxy, being a junkie of the franchise, I ordered the game up on her phone and gave it a whirl.
My reaction was a decided “Meh.” I was glad I played it just for the experience, but it’s certainly nothing I would recommend or remember for long. The accelerometer controls, for example, were horrible – there’s nothing like having to tilt the screen all the way down to get your man to move out of the way of incoming fire, only to find out you can’t see what the hell is going on in the game anymore. The dialogue choices didn’t feel like they would have changed a damn thing no matter what I chose, and to this day I can’t tell what “bonus” I unlocked in Mass Effect 2 on account of beating Galaxy.
Next I tried Call of Duty: Nazi Zombies. FPS games are my niche, and I’d read good things about this iPhone title, so I thought “What the hell?” Ye Gods, the game looked and sounded like a precise copy of the game on my Xbox 360! Unfortunately, the control scheme was almost unnavigable. Control sticks don’t work so well when there isn’t any neutral position to snap them back to. This was not money I was pleased to have spent, and so the iPhone’s appeal had worn itself out.
I needed a new phone prior to E3 this year for some live blogging, and three months of writing about video games had convinced me that iPhone gaming was a phenomena I needed to take more seriously, so I upgraded to an iPhone 3GS. I’ve since downloaded about two dozen games and had some compelling experiences, but it wasn’t until I picked up Civilization Revolution that I truly understood the iPhone gaming revolution, pun intended.
I judge the worthiness of any new gaming platform by whether or not I choose to utilize that platform over others that have held my concerted attention. In this case, the Xbox 360 is my favorite platform, as all of my friends are on Xbox Live. On several occasions, I have now eschewed playing the 360 to sit on the couch and play Civ Revolution on my iPhone instead, plugging it into the charger the second I get the “20% Battery Life Remaining” message before forgetting where those Settlers were going and for which enemy city I was massing troops to lay siege.
Had you suggested this state of affairs to me six months ago, I’d have said you were insane.
Part of the reason I eschew the aforementioned hardcore gamer tendency is because I don’t have the same understanding of what the words “hardcore” and “casual” mean that most people seem to have. They usually mean the words as a value judgment about the games being played. I believe the terms are more useful in identifying how much total time a person spends playing video games, on average. It just so happens that “casual” gamers are much more likely to play games that, well, aren’t quite as difficult as the games that hardcore gamers play, purely on account of the casual gamer not having the free time or lacking the requisite skills. That being said, “casual” games can easily become part of a hardcore gamer’s lexicon if they’re good games.
I’m surprised that I didn’t consider my iPhone a full-on console when I bought Plants vs. Zombies, because I similarly ignored my other consoles for days after I made the purchase. It’s not all about the novelty of the touch screen, though I’m finding that this tactile interface is maintaining its appeal much longer than the motion controls on the Wii did back when it was new to me. The touch screen feels very natural, and utilized properly makes interaction extremely quick and seamless, which brings us back to Civilization Revolution.
Civ Rev may be a dumbed-down version of the Civilization titles, but I find it no less of a satisfying gaming experience, and on my iPhone I can literally fly through the menus and build queues and unit orders and manage my civilization with a speed and efficiency that no mouse and keyboard could ever match. In no way do I feel that I am not playing Civilization, but rather “the iPhone version.”
Once I cease to add any sort of caveat to a game’s identity based on the platform it is running on, I think this means the platform is actually a legitimate platform. I’m very happy to be proven wrong about dismissing the possibility months ago. Now pardon me, Cleopatra is threatening to take back Alexandria, but she doesn’t know I have Tank units rolling out the next turn.